Not to denigrate what is surely a fine facility, blessed with what seem to be great acoustics and first-class accommodations, but the Mohegan Sun Arena doesn’t exactly have the cachet of a Fillmore East – or West for that matter – or a Marquee Club. That’s neither here nor there as it relates to the quality of Staind’s new concert CD and DVD releases. It’s just a sad commentary on the times that live albums are now coming out of tourist-trap casinos named after faceless corporations and very little character to speak of. “Come for the loosest slots in the Nutmeg State, stay for the family-friendly rock” – that has a real ring to it, doesn’t it?
On Nov. 25, 2011, alt-metal kingpins Staind, closing in on 20 years of existence, brought their never-ending supply of glum, emotionally draining dirges to Connecticut, where the Mohegan Sun welcomes visitors with open arms and probably a free continental breakfast. Documented on both CD and a vividly filmed DVD, out now on Armoury Records and Eagle Vision, Staind’s Live From Mohegan Sun perfectly encapsulates what makes them so compelling and, at the same time, so maddening. Capable of unleashing impossibly heavy, crushing grooves that methodically twist and turn like monstrous, pre-historic snakes, Staind wreaks havoc with rhythmic earthquakes and destructive, blustery storm surges of power chords in writhing, punishing sonic apocalypses like “Spleen,” “Eyes Wide Open” and “Falling,” before bulldozing the ruins with earth-movers “Paper Wings” and “Mudshovel,” two immense sonic juggernauts. Then, right on cue, Staind – baring its dark, scarred soul in Aaron Lewis’s uncomfortably personal and anguished lyrics –will fall into old, familiar patterns like a married couple that doesn’t know its relationship died years ago.
And a collection like this, where so much of Staind’s catalog is laid out end to end for public consumption, brings their faults into the harsh light of day, when for the most, they’ve been hidden in atmospheres as dank and devoid of sun as the windowless basements of serial killers. Occasionally off-key on this particular night, Lewis, modulating ever so slightly up and down over the top of poorly mixed sound, can’t help but fall in love with trawling the same melodic passages over and over again, especially on the trudging, labored versions of “So Far Away” and “Right Here” performed here. And with Tool as their muse, Staind moves cautiously, their riffs almost seem like they’re stalking prey, before rising up and bringing the hammer down to complete the cycle of fairly predictable loud-soft dynamics.
Unfortunately, Staind isn’t nearly as adventurous as Tool, preferring to remain on the well-worn pathways those famously publicity-shy prog-metallers have tread and never daring to venture as far into the unknown as their spirit guides. Yet, Staind’s formula has certainly served them well considering their rather unassuming chart success, that tension and synergy between quiet meditation and staggering volume, along with their seductive melodic undercurrents and Lewis’s wounded, self-flagellating poetry, making “It’s Been Awhile” such an affecting and moving song … and a massive hit. That piece is practically a religious experience for the Mohegan Sun congregation.
What Staind can’t overcome, however, is how heavy-lidded and narcoleptic they can be in concert, “Fade” and “For You” slumbering more deeply than the rest of Staind’s live work. Certainly the DVD illustrates, in stark terms, how stationary and static – despite the near constant head-banging – they are onstage, even if the high-definition images are lush and colorful, and the sweeping wide shots are absolutely epic. It’s almost as if somebody told Staind that if they moved from where they were standing, a sniper would pick them off one by one from the balcony. And their obstinately ponderous riffs and rhythms, often as black as molasses and just as thick and syrupy, can slow to the point where the temptation to nudge Staind a little to see if they can pick up the pace is almost irresistible.
Comparing the two deep set lists, both containing generous portions of old and new Staind stuff, the DVD has an extra track in “Country Boy” the CD lacks, and among its bonus features are an engaging and honest interview with the band and a special look at guitarist Mike Mushok’s live rig that should entertain gear heads. But this is one occasion when the visual aspect of seeing the band play live doesn’t really set it all that far apart from only hearing the performance. Like Creed, Staind knows how to build big drama, and skeptics may say they do so only to cynically pander to their audiences. That criticism may not be fair, but anybody who sits down to a buffet of Staind as long as this one should wish for more consistency and attention to detail.
Label: Eagle Rock/Vision (the audio CD or concert DVD can be purchased here)